By: Cycle University coach Heather Nielson
A common question asked of a bike racer after they win a race is often times ‘Who’s your coach?!’ If you think about this question a little deeper and its’ conscious or even subconscious origins, you’ll probably agree that any athlete’s success is not achieved alone, but rather with a community, support system and multiple resources that they have nurtured, cultivated and fine tuned over many seasons of competition.
Resources required for riding a bike can be quite large and if you choose to compete, racing a bike becomes a significant portion of your budget in terms of equipment, time training, travel expenses, nutrition, massage/physical therapy/recovery specialists, gear and if there’s anything left in the budget, a coach. As a result, even for the middle class weekend warrior, investing in a personal coach is usually last on their list of priorities.
Everyone however, whether you’re a competitive cyclist hoping to go ‘ pro’ someday, a regular commuter where you live or enjoy the occassional century ride, is usually looking for ways to get fitter. We’ve all done it: we ask our friends for advice, scour the internet, participate in on-line forums, read books, magazines & articles before we’re willing to invest in professional advice. We do that with everything in life. It’s human and natural. Educating yourself is always a good idea but I believe that with everything in life, once you get in deep enough on a particular subject, the conflicting advice, inexperience & cursive knowledge will eventually catch up with you. Realizing you’ve reached that threshold is the first step, the second step is deciding what kind of professional advice you want and the third step is deciding how much you’re willing to invest. Be very specific about your goals. Write them down with time lines and specific steps; then write down all of the resources available to you. If you decide that part of reaching your goals is investing in professional advice, then here is where going back to asking around might help you again: word of mouth is the most powerful advertising tool.
There are lots of coaches, coaching products and services, clinics, camps, seminars, books etc. Picking the right type of coaching will depend specifically on your goals & resources while finding the right coach will be the hardest part. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, contact them, read about their experience, training philosophy and success both as an athlete and as a coach. After that, it will probably come down to a personality fit & communication style. Take your time getting to know them. E-mail them, call them and if you can meet them in person over coffee or on a bike ride. There is a fine line however between researching potential coaching resources & attempting to get ‘free advice’. Remember, these are professionals who do this for a living and just like you and your job, you expect a pay check for ‘clocking in’.
Don’t abuse their time and generosity. You’ll value & appreciate the service more if you pay for it and you’ll also be more likely to adhere to the advice or training plan. How many times have you solicited free advice from multiple sources, most of them conflicting, only to end up doing the same thing you did before and now having wasted time & energy doing so and risked potentially fruitful relationships?
If you don’t want to commit to personal on-going coaching, ask if they have one-time consultation options, short term training plans or specific clinics or camps based around what you’re wanting to improve like tactics, time trialing or group riding. Ask about package pricing for multiple consultations.
The most important part of any relationship is communication. If you do decide to invest in a personal on-going coach, make sure you do YOUR part of the job and tell them what’s going on with your training, update your files/diary and speak with them on a regular basis. They can’t do their job effectively if they don’t know what you have or haven’t done and how you’ve responded to the training.
As a professional cycling coach myself, I’ve also learned that there are many schools of thought when it comes to training and racing. Every coach is slightly different & we all have our unique experience & opinions. There’s no one perfect coach & finding the right one for you to help you reach your goals is one of the most important decision you’ll make.